Thousands Become U.S. Citizens in Druve-Thru Naturalization Ceremonies, Easing Backlog

It’s long been a joyous and patriotic event when someone takes the oath to become a U.S. citizen, like a high school graduation for new Americans.

Now, it’s like a visit to a fast-food restaurant.

Thousands of people have become U.S. citizens in drive-up ceremonies under the social-distancing rules that govern life amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At first, I was disappointed, because I thought, ‘Oh, I’m not going to be able to have the picture in front of the emblem and the flag and all of that.’ But then I thought, ‘How great is it that they’re making this opportunity available that I don’t have to wait?’ So actually, it was fine,” Anita Rosenberger said after affirming the oath of citizenship during a drive-up ceremony in Detroit.

The 60-year-old Rosenberger came to the U.S. from England as a child in 1968.

She was among a few dozen who became new Americans on a recent afternoon inside the parking garage of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services complex in the city.

Cars inched along until arriving in front of a face shield-wearing U.S. District Judge Laurie J. Michelson (MEYE’-kehl-sehn), who recited the oath of citizenship to new citizen candidates situated in their cars, trucks and vans.

“This is a new experience, like we have done it in the building with a group of people. And this is a different feeling. But I’m very happy that they’re handling it safely,” said Bahar Khan, who witnessed his friend Khadiza Akter Suma of Bangladesh become a citizen.

The drive-up ceremonies are helping to ease a backlog.

But they haven’t dampened enthusiasm.

People tell The Associated Press they are thrilled with their new status after already long waits that were prolonged further by the outbreak.

Nomsa Durham said it didn’t matter much to her how the ceremony played out.

“I mean, it’s fine. I’m okay as long as I got my stuff,” said Durham, who came to the U.S. from South Africa. She lives in Pontiac, Michigan, and works as a surgical technologist.

Many more are waiting to become citizens — and new voters.

“I wanted to become a citizen partly just to get involved in the whole voting process. I’ve been here a long time. And I thought, ‘You know what? I meant to do it for a long time.’ And finally, it’s like, ‘This is the year to do it,'” said Margaret Arnold, originally from Scotland, who affirmed the oath in Detroit.

But they could be held up by a budget crisis that could soon largely shut down USCIS.

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